How many times have you been impressed by the dramatic testimony of a missionary guest in your church or the biography of a person who survived persecution because of their faith? We thrill to the stories of Peter, John or Paul, as we should. But is it not equally impressive when someone consistently lives a Christian witness against the challenging influences of our everyday world?
Philip is one of my heroes. He is not one of the twelve apostles, or listed as a member of the ruling council of the Jerusalem church, or described as a renowned planter of churches across the Roman Empire or the author of a single New Testament letter. Philip inspires me by his appearance at key places, his concern for others and his willingness to share Christ wherever he went.
Acts is the amazing story of how the good news about Jesus Christ began breaking through all the barriers of religion and culture in the first century. The last word in Acts 28:31 is unhindered. Along with the original apostles and growing number of disciples, Philip was very involved in breaking down the walls that could block the spreading gospel. Philip appears on the scene when there is critical friction within the Jerusalem church. He helped tear down the growing wall of prejudice.
Instead of approaching the book called Acts as the “Acts of the Apostles” we should see it as “The Powerful Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Early Disciples.” Peter is most prominent in Acts 1-12 and Paul in Acts 13-28. But you already know there are many significant individuals in this chronicle of the early church's growth. Philip is one of those significant disciples of Jesus, appearing four times as God's Spirit blesses him in challenging circumstances.
Scholarly consensus puts the writing of John's gospel between 90-100 AD. John is referred to in the biblical texts as “the beloved” or “the disciple Jesus loved,” and there is a stronger sense of intimacy in the telling of this gospel. Consider also that John, who outlived the other apostles, had witnessed the outpouring of God's Spirit at Pentecost, the spread of the gospel across the empire, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and had been exiled to Patmos where he wrote Revelation. John also uses philosophical language, but turns to actual events to capture our imagination as he applies a theological truth to life.
We can fantasize about the original apostles who followed Jesus as men of unshakable faith, but the gospel narratives poke gigantic holes in that thinking. Even with the removal of Judas, the remaining eleven appear no different from us. Peter's epic statement about Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), is offset by his denial in the courtyard of the high priest after Jesus’ arrest: “I do not know him” (Luke 22:57). James and John exhibited deep loyalty to Jesus, but they evidenced less than spirituality when they sought places of prominence in the kingdom to come (Matthew 10:37)! But when it comes to Thomas, we do this kind of religious sidestep and label him The Doubter!
I was the dinner guest of a scientist and his wife in their lovely home in South Korea. The wife was active in the church where I was preaching but the husband was not a believer. He saw Christianity as a moral philosophy, dismissing the resurrection as a folk tale. I asked him if he understood everything about the physical world and he laughed, responding, “No one does.”
The concluding week of Jesus' ministry as “the Human One” (v. 23) brings together all the contrasts and evidence pointing to God's ultimate plan for humanity. The Apostle John looks back over all the details and events as he identifies and presents the fullness of God's grace.
Grief and loss are never routine or easy. We can learn the sympathetic words to speak, repeat the correct doctrines, but in the darkness of loss we all struggle. I was charged with my first funeral in a small country church in southeast Oklahoma on a bitter cold November day. I had only attended one funeral in my young lifetime and that was to observe how a pastor should handle such an occasion.